Thomas Craskell was an extremely accomplished artist who worked alongside Peter Monamy and Samuel Scott in depicting maritime scenes in the mid-18th Century. Indeed there has been suggestion that Craskell painted in Samuel Scott's studio, however there is no written work that confirms this. Sadly he seems to have finished painting early in his career and thus never fulfilled his enormous potential, leaving behind only four known works - two of which are currently in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. His draughtsmanship is excellent and he must certainly have had first-hand knowledge of the sea due to his exact rendering of sails, rigging and ships in action.
Knowles's Action off Havana:
What had started as a simple dispute between England and Spain termed, rather enigmatically, the 'War of Jenkins' Ear' in 1739, soon expanded into a much wider conflict involving all the main European powers and became known as the War of the Austrian Succession. As ever, the rich West Indian islands proved the principal battleground and, even as peace was being negotiated in Europe after nine years of war, the bitter colonial rivalries continued in the Caribbean where Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Knowles, C-in-C, Jamaica Squadron, seized one last chance to gain a major victory in the region. In September 1748, Knowles learned that the Spanish Plate (treasure) Fleet was due in Havana and he instantly determined to intercept and capture it. The British squadron, containing six ships-of-the-line, left Port Royal and cruised off the Tortuga Banks until some Spanish ships were sighted on 1st October. To Knowles's alarm and intense disappointment however, these Spanish ships were, in fact, ships-of -war rather than the treasure galleons Knowles was expecting. Nevertheless, since he had the wind in his favour and the two squadrons were fairly evenly matched, Knowles decided to attack. Although Knowles' ships were able to capture the 64-gun Conquistador and also managed to so damage the 74-gun Spanish flagship Africa that she was forced to flee the scene in search of a safe anchorage, the rest of the Spanish ships all made it safely into Havana. Thereafter, Knowles received news (from a captured prize) that a peace treaty was imminent so there was no further opportunity to go searching for the elusive Plate Fleet. Upon his return to England, Knowles became embroiled in a dispute with his second-in-command and, as a result, was court-martialled and officially reprimanded for his failure to defeat the enemy squadron even though his courage was never called into question.
This painting is one of a pair commemorating the action, the second of which - depicting the burning of the Spanish flagship Africa - is part of the Caird Collection held in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, no. BHC 0375.